In my column Tuesday, I noted some issues that might arise, and some silliness too, involving street renaming efforts in downtown Oklahoma City. Tulsa, always looking to compete with OKC, definitely one-upped us this week, as noted in this great “My Two Cents” by Kelly Ogle at the top of this post.
So, how far will this go? I’m feeling mischievous today, so why not go ahead and show Tulsans that they’re not alone in living with potentially politically incorrect street names.
Now gather around my friends, and let me tell you a story. From 1889 until 1961, the street that is now home to Film Row, Devon Energy Center, the Myriad Gardens, Continental Resources and is the main drag through Bricktown was known as Grand Avenue
But in 1961, the city council sought to name the street Sheraton Avenue in honor of the (now demised) Biltmore Hotel being branded as a Sheraton. Rival hotel operators objected. So the council named it Sheridan instead, wiping out one of the few street names that dated back to the city’s very first day of existence.
But who is this Sheridan guy that the council suddenly chose to honor as a way to kill what they saw as an increasingly annoying debate?
Sheridan Avenue is named after 1800s General Phillip Sheridan. He may seem pretty obscure to the populace, but he remains a giant figure among Civil War historians. So with Sheridan Avenue being such an important street, surely he was a good guy, right? He doesn’t have baggage like Tate Brady, right?
Let’s start with the good news first: After the Civil War, General Sheridan played a military supervisory role over reconstruction, and he recoiled at the violence used against newly freed black slaves in New Orleans. He also was reported by newspapers as having a dim view of Texas, as demonstrated by his comment “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell.”
This isn’t too bad a start for a resume to look at for naming a prominent downtown street, right?
But wait. Let’s also note that Sheridan was one of the key generals who advanced the “scorched earth” approach toward the Confederacy in the waning days of the Civil War. Such military campaigns inflicted devastation, suffering and death to innocent civilians who were unlucky enough to be in his path.
And here’s where it gets really politically incorrect: Sheridan liked to kill American Indians. His biographer quoted him as saying “the only good Indians I saw were dead” in response to a Comanche chief who introduced himself to the general as a “good Injun.” He made this lovely comment while at Fort Sill – the same command that oversaw the opening of the unassigned lands in Oklahoma, including what is now Oklahoma City.
Sheridan’s assault on American Indians was more than just a military guy taking his job too seriously.
During the winter of 1868, he attacked Cheyennes, Kiowas and Comanches in their winter quarters, taking the livestock, killing those who fought back, and driving the survivors back onto reservations.
Hunters, meanwhile, were making those reservations pretty bleak places to survive. History shows professional hunters trespassing on Indian land killed 4 billion bison by 1874, and to this Sheridan responded “let them kill, skin and sell until the buffalo is exterminated.”
Historians noted that when the Texas legislature considered outlawing bison poaching on tribal lands, Sheridan personally testified against it, suggesting lawmakers instead give each of the hunters a medal, engraved with a dead buffalo on one side and a discouraged-looking Indian on the other. Remember kids, we celebrate the bison all over the urban core, with both artistically decorated sculptures, reliefs along I-235, and a monument at I-235 and NW 23.
Yeah. Oklahoma City named a street – our “Grand Avenue” after this guy as a compromise effort to coyly tribute a hotel that no longer stands while not offending that hotel’s rivals. And that street is the most important street in our downtown. It will be home to the John W. Rex Elementary when it opens in 2014.
Tulsa – check mate. Try to top this if you can.